Makwiro loses forests as miners ravage land

HARARE - African sages say if a snake suddenly hurtles in front of you, it smacks of a bad omen.

This was the case with a Daily News on Sunday crew that went on an ambitious exploratory sojourn in the mineral-rich Makwiro area of Mashonaland West Province recently; where indiscriminate chrome mining is completely defacing one of the most beautiful sceneries in Zimbabwe.

At Selous, along the Harare-Bulawayo highway, the little car swung to the right, taking on a tarred detour that seemed to tear into nowhere.

But soon, the comfort was lost in dramatic fashion as the reality of the rugged roads of rustic Zimbabwe dawned.

Suddenly, the beautiful countryside gave into an unforgiving terrain.

The road, now dusty and rugged, meandered like a discarded old ribbon.

Lo and behold!

The driver suddenly applied brakes, sending occupants obligatorily tumbling forth; a puff udder emerged from the thicket, and stopped in the middle of the road, staring at the car, as if amused.

No one dared to come out of the car as the fiery-looking reptile took its sweet time to clear off.

Then, at long last, it wheeled off with painstaking lassitude, slithering into the brushwood to allow us to continue with the journey.

It did not take time before mine dumps popped up in the distance like the Egyptian pyramids, announcing new territory traversed by the unsympathetic.

Here, the mineral laden Great Dyke trudges past, but unnoticed by mindless fortune seekers who are arbitrarily burrowing the land, their exploits fast turning the otherwise verdant zone into a wasteland.

At one giant quarry indicative of large-scale open cast mining, heavy machinery belonging to Chinese chrome mining and smelting firm, Afrochene, was busy ripping through the earth to reach the mineral.

A tottery waste sludge reservoir was lying on the hill slope, with no embankment.

Local people complain that the waste pours from the reservoir on rainy days to the stream, forcing them to stand guard in case their livestock drinks its contaminated waters.

Fish and frogs have died because of the chemicals in the sludge.

Not very far from there, the land heavily scarred; miners have abandoned their claims after they became obsolete and moved to other claims after causing serious consequences to the local environment.

The environmental protection fees are not enough to compensate for the pollution local people are suffering.

“We are not permitted to speak to the press, will you please leave us alone,” exclaimed a caterpillar operator who was busy opening up a new claim, ravaging through the resilient greenery spurred by a wetland which, until now, had remained virgin.

Years of journalism practice groom instincts which instruct that attempts to persuade such people to comment would only be futile, regardless of how sharp one’s sophist skills are.

The news crew hit the trail again.

A speeding all-terrain vehicle soon catches up from behind, never minding the rough, ribbed road — is it now custom made for such drives.

The news crew decided to pull aside to allow for the vehicle to whizz past, tossing clouds of chocking dust into the air.

The news crew notices the Afrochene logo on the vehicle and its two occupants of Chinese origin and assumes they were the company’s officials.

“Look, here is our chance to talk to them. They can give us useful comments,” yelled one of the crew members.

The crew obliged and the driver sprang into action.

Alas!

What a futile effort; the monster car simply rolled on and out of sight, leaving the news crew swearing bitterly.

A while later, the news crew spotted a lone digger sweating it out on a claim.

He is working on a long abandoned open cast.

He squinted to make way out of the crater in the centre of the valley where a few years ago, miners had blown a depression dozens of feet deep and more dozens of feet wide.

The basin around the crater was weathered by years of wind storms.

With zero cover, this was quite evidently one of the most dangerous places to cross the wastelands.

“I earn a living from digging through these soft rocks. We sell chrome ore to Afrochene.

“They bring their trucks here to carry the loads off and pay us quite well,” he said, starkly refusing to be identified.

“There are hundreds of miners digging through those forests. It’s only a matter of time before this whole land becomes all pit and mine dump,” he says, then he asks to be excused in order to continue with his trade.

Not too far from there, a herdsman is seen closely monitoring dozens of cattle as they graze in the brittle grass.

They belong to local cattle rancher, David Kaguta, who is one of the many farmers here that have had to wage individual wars against the chrome diggers.

“Only last week, we pulled a cow out of a deep gully left behind by the miners. We have developed a strategy of keeping very close to the cattle to prevent such incidents.

“This year alone, we have lost three cattle,” said the herdsman, Emmanuel Mubaiwa.

Surprisingly, the Environmental Management Authority (Ema) has not taken any action to contain the situation.

“We are not aware of those concerns, we will have to go on the ground to check,” said Ema spokesperson, Steady Kangata.

The ministry of Environment, Water and Climate has, under the provisions of the Environment Act, prohibited mining close to rivers, forests, water bodies and sites close to public infrastructure.

However, miners, especially small-scale, continue to operate in these regulated areas and as a result, there is wanton destruction of farm lands and indiscriminate pollution of water bodies.

Because the overburden from excavated material contains acerbic chemical, it pollutes nearby water bodies causing severe harm to inhabitants relying on the water.

In addition to that amalgamation which is the simplest and cheapest technique used by almost all small-scale gold miners involves in the use of mercury which contaminates the soil, surface and underground water.

Forests are also cleared in the process, leading to loss of tree cover and habitat loss.

Though artisan miners always argue that mining occurs on a relatively small portion of land, its contribution to land degradation is enormous.

But with the economic situation further worsening, it is difficult to see government taking any action.

Panning has provided an alternative economic base for many communities orphaned by a hostile job market, retrenched workers, and those suffering from perennial droughts.

Mining is simply a safety net for many.

This is the sad tale of how jumbled mining is eating away the country’s rich heritage, first predicted by the puff adder which blocked the road to the sorry site.

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